Monday Apr 25, 2005

Sun "Kit"

Have you noticed the increasing use of the term 'kit" to refer to a hardware vendor's products? Articles will refer to, for example, Sun's "kit", when discussing our latest servers or storage and desktops.

I really like that term - because it drives home the point that when you are in the market to purchase "kit" from a product vendor, you sign up to be the kit builder. And for the hobbyist out there, that can be really fun and educational, even thrilling to some degree.

Many of us grew up building kits. I \*loved\* building ships, trucks, airplanes, tanks, cars, rockets, etc. It was a blast, and possibly contributed to (and/or was because of) my engineering mindset. The sense of accomplishment of building highly realistic, detailed and customized models, from a bunch of bare parts, is quite rewarding.

However, most IT shops I work with are less interested in the process of constructing their own unique one-off configurations from collections of parts (kit). I applaud clients for their increasing demand for solutions built from established patterns and reference implementations. I applaud IT vendors for their increasing portfolios of pre-integrated and hardened solutions.

Kit building is a great weekend hobby for kids (and adults). But when it comes to running our businesses and defending our country, we need to leverage, as much as possible, the experience and factory integration of trusted IT solution vendors. For some, it is hard to give up the thrill/challenge of the IT equivalent of "junk yard wars". But there are even more interesting and higher-valued challenges and rewards awaiting those who free up their time from the tyranny of the "nuts and bolts".

The following is a great weekend hobby project. But you don't need to let your IT projects look like this...

Friday Apr 22, 2005

Gadget Envy

The original describe the three as women. I tried to rephrase in a gender neutral fashion.

Three people - one German, one Japanese, and one being from the hills of Tennessee - were enjoying a sauna after a workout. Suddenly, there was a beeping sound....

The German pressed their forearm and the beeping stopped. The others looked at their new friend questioningly, to which the person replied: "Oh, that was my pager, I have a microchip under the skin of my arm."

A few minutes later, a phone rang. The Japanese friend placed palm to ear and spoke for a few moments. When the conversation was finished, the person apologized, saying: "So sorry.... that was my mobile phone. I have a micro-radio implanted in my hand."

Well, the hillbilly felt decidedly low tech and decided to do something just as impressive. Stepping out of the sauna and to the bathroom, the others noticed a piece of toilet paper hanging from the person's behind upon their return. The hillbilly finally said: "Well, will you look at that. I'm gettin' a FAX."  :-)

Wednesday Apr 20, 2005

The Cremation of Sam McGee

This is a poem my dad memorized when we were growing up. I'm not really a "poem" kinda guy, but I think I'll pass this one down to my kids, maybe around a campfire (we love to camp). I got thinking about this because my 9 year old son needs to memorize a poem for school. This is a little long (and a little dark) for a school assignment, but I'm glad it got me to dust this one off. The surprise ending makes it particularly fun for a campfire setting.

Here is the poem, by Robert W. Service. Some background on the author and the motivators for this poem follow. Read it with a haunting kind of tone (sort of like this). Enjoy.

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun,
    By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
   That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
   But the strangest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
   I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ‘taint being dead--it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows—O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;” . . . then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
   By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
   That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
   But the strangest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
   I cremated Sam McGee.

Robert W. Service, a Canadian poet and novelist, was known for his ballads of the Yukon. He was born in Preston, England, on January 16, 1874. He emigrated to Canada at the age of twenty, in 1894, and settled for a short time on Vancouver Island. He was employed by the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria, B.C., and was later transferred to Whitehorse and then to Dawson in the Yukon. In all, he spent eight years in the Yukon and saw and experienced the difficult times of the miners, trappers, and hunters that he has presented to us in verse.

During the Balkan War of 1912-13, Service was a war correspondent to the Toronto Star. He served this paper in the same capacity during World War I, also serving two years as an ambulance driver in the Canadian Army medical corps. He returned to Victoria for a time during World War II, but later lived in retirement on the French Riviera, where he died on September 14, 1958, in Monte Carlo.

Sam McGee was a real person, a customer at the Bank of Commerce where Service worked. The Alice May was a real boat, the Olive May, a derelict on Lake Laberge.

Anyone who has experienced the bitterness of cold weather and what it can do to a man will empathize with Sam McGee’s feelings as expressed by Robert Service in this poem.

Typoglycemia

Here is an interesting illustration of the fuzzy pattern-matching capability of the human mind. The following paragraph contains words whose letter sequences are randomly re-ordered (except for the first and last letters). I think you'll find you can read this quite easily and quickly!

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? I awlyas tghouht slpeling was not taht ipmorant. :-)

Monday Apr 18, 2005

Sun's Performance Evaluation

A recent BSC blog reflected on the reasons why the author likes working at Sun. That got me thinking of my own list of considerations. Think of this as a reverse Performance Evaluation :-) These are some of the categories that are important to me. I haven't revealed my weightings (some are more important than others) nor Sun's "score" - those will be different for everyone and will shift over time. But the concept of evaluating your employer is intriguing. Sun does quite well, by the way.

Role
What I Do (interesting & challenging assignments that make a real difference)
How Often (always on a project - multi-threading when possible)

Basic Comp
Salary (I'd like to be able to work for free, but... a competitive base)
Bonus (extra rewards for personal and corporate contribution & performance)
Benefits (standard stuff, plus things like tuition, cell phone, broadband, car, etc)
Stock Options (and a growing stock valuation :-)
ESPP (guaranteed 15% return, plus valuation growth)
401K (with decent matching)

Scheduled Down Time
Vacation (extended R&R with the family)

Strength of Company
Respected (by customers, prospects, competitors, analysts, neighbors)
Vision (a strategy that is unique, consistent, aligned, communicated, and rational)
Technology (lots of smart people creating interesting and relevant stuff, related to the vision)
Execution (the resolve and ability to realize the vision, in time to be valued by the marketplace)
Solution Oriented (able to solve a client's needs, not just sell a collection of parts)
Process Driven (able to deliver predictable excellence, consistently, every time)
Marketing (capability to stimulate strong market enthusiasm for our vision and solutions)
Management (leads by example and motivation, removes barriers, empowers)
Profitable (a strong indicator of great leadership and decisions)
Growing (a strong indicator that our vision and execution aligns with client needs)

Other Considerations
Training (professional development - continuous capability improvement)
Mentoring (formal one-on-one relationships to stimulate optimal performance and growth)
Colleagues (passionate, fun, smart, supportive, aligned, empowered)
Resources (given access to the tools, techniques, & talent needed to succeed)
Stress (managed: adrenaline-producing, not fear-inducing)
Exposure (opinions/ideas heard at the exec level and in public forums [blogs, conferences, etc])
Personal Growth (a clear and achievable roadmap for promotional opportunities)
Organizational Stability (evolution, not annual revolution (as in washing machine :-)
Job Security (no concern of massive corporate-wide RIFs)

Thursday Apr 14, 2005

80 Mile River Ride

I visited one of our customers yesterday: Patrick Air Force Base. The drive over the causeway leading to the Atlantic Ocean reminded me of the regular weekend bike rides I use to enjoy years ago when I lived on the east coast of Florida. I had bought a Trek 1200 road bike and a group of us would meet at a friend's house in Indian Harbour Beach early on Saturday mornings near the southern tip of Merritt Island. We'd generally cross Mathers Bridge (a historic little scissors style bridge) and head up Merritt Island towards Satellite Beach and Cocoa. The ride offers stunning views of the Banana River and Indian River (part of the Intercoastal Waterway). We'd take various routes, but one time we made almost to the shadow of NASA's huge Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center. We'd sometimes head west across the river and begin the southern trek thru Rockledge and eventually we'd find our way back across one of the bridges to Merritt Island. Other times we'd head east to the ocean's edge and travel on A1A. We'd generally ride 60-80 miles. The route shown below was an 80 miler that took about 5 hours at an average rate of 17-20mph, along with a few short rest/hydration stops. That was my final prep ride before the "Sea Side Century" - a 100 mile bike ride/race event I completed one morning in 1990. Whew! That extra 20 miles was a killer. But all the rides were great fun and great exercise.

Monday Apr 11, 2005

Destinations Beyond: World Tour

Ghee Teo's blog motivated me to post my own little map of the places I've been. See below.

My world tour started almost 30 years ago in 1977 with a high school band trip to Guatemala. That was an eye-opening experience for a young American! A three week business trip to Malaysia (KL mostly, but I visited the Highlands and the historic coastal town of Malaka) was fascinating. My favorite was the three weeks I spent on a Sun business trip in Sweden. I took the whole family (thanks Sun!) and added a 4th week driving across Norway to the fjords (check out this pic) on the western side of the country in and around Bergen. Wow!! Twenty hours of daylight per day made it even nicer. We also took a ferry over to Denmark and drove the length of the country to Copenhagen, stopping to visit the original LegoLand. My business trip to Frankfurt was also a highlight with side trips down the Rhine and to the historic town of Worms and Heidelberg. Hawaii and Paris weren't bad either, again thanks to Sun! Singapore was a cool little country. Oh, and my recent 10 days in Sydney, Australia was awesome - with a hiking trip in the Blue Mountains on the final weekend.

I've also been to most of the 50 United States. One of my favorite trips was the drive to Portland, OR for a conference speaking event. I took the family and we enjoyed many stops along the way. But hiking part way up Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helen, and the Columbia River Gorge offered stunning views. I still need to get to Alaska and Maine.

I was scheduled to travel to China and Korea and India last year, but those trips were canceled at the last minute because of the three hurricanes that hit my hometown. I thought it best not to leave my family to fend for themselves during the impending storms! I hope to visit those and many other countries in the years to come. The world is an amazingly diverse and highly interesting place.


Da Vinci Code: Debunked



Have you read this book? It's a decent read and a run-away best seller. Since Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are making a movie based on Brown's novel (due out next summer) I'm sure the topic will continue to be water-cooler fodder. The story is full of drama, intrigue, violence, betrayal, mystery, etc. Dan is also writing a follow up book based on the secret Masonic society.

Make no mistake - the Da Vinci book is a complete work of fiction. The book makes many outrageous and unsubstantiated claims that directly attack tradition and the historical record. That might be okay for a fictional novel. But Dan says that he actually believes his story. Naturally, the sensationalism is just good marketing. And I'm betting that many of you have read the book and might even think there is something to the claims. Dan starts the novel by claiming journalistic accuracy, and goes on to suggest that (for example):
  • Jesus was not considered to be God until 325AD, when voted in by a narrow margin at Nicaea
  • Eighty Gospels were considered, but only four made it into the New Testament
  • Mary Magdalene was pregnant with Jesus' child when Jesus was crucified
  • etc, etc, etc
Let's look at that first one, which is a very serious claim if taken as more than a just a fabricated story element in a fictional work.

The historic record confirms that a few years before 325AD, an elder named Arius promoted a controversy that suggested that Jesus was inferior to and created by God. Arius was ex-communicated. But he had some followers and it split the church. The Roman Emperor Constantine didn't like to see this split, so he called a Council of 318 church leaders from all over the kingdom to resolve the argument and heal the church. The Arius Controversy was: is Christ "homo-ousious" (one substance with God - deity) or "homoi-ousious" (a similar substance - but inferior to God). Arius tried to rally the troops at Nicaea, but the final vote was 313 to 5. The five were Arius and his few followers. It was a resounding defeat.

As a side note, there are still some major religious groups today that embrace the Arius position, such as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Besides the overwhelming vote against Aruis, the Council of Nicaea produced one of the most famous creeds that is still in use today by many Christian denominations. The Nicene Creed clearly articulates the position held by the Church since the ministry of Jesus - that He and God are one:

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made.

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Saturday Apr 09, 2005

Project Lifecycle Cartoon

While this is intended to be funny, it's a little too close for comfort in many cases. But due diligence up-front VOC (voice of the customer) needs assessment interviews, and a subsequent translation into well-formed and reconciled SMART (1, 2) [Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Realistic/Realizable, Traceable/TimeBounded] Requirements, along with an ongoing Risk Log, would have made this a very boring cartoon. A lesson we would be well advised to remember in many contexts.


Friday Apr 08, 2005

Stocks: SUNW -vs- IBM, HPQ, MSFT, ORCL

In the following graphs I've compared Sun Microsystems (SUNW) to some of our competitors and/or partners: IBM, HP, Oracle, Microsoft. The charts look at the five companies all the way back to the late 80s, and back just five years. In the first graph, you clearly see the "exuberant" six year ramp that SUNW experienced starting in 1995. That's the year we launched Java and the UltraSPARC processor. I also joined Sun that year :-). The post Y2K dot-com implosion hit us pretty hard, but after a two year slide we've settled down and ended up a significantly better long-term investment than some. In hindsight at least.

The second graph looks at the same companies since Y2K. It's interesting to see that we all declined (at various rates) until mid-2002, at which point we all found a plateau that we've pretty much sustained for the last two and a half years.

I don't know about you, but I think the market is primed to move again. The IT industry landscape has changed a lot since the Y2K peak. Pressure is building. Innovation has been occurring all along. Which of the five will break out of the horizontal? My bet is that it'll be those companies that successfully combine targeted innovation and exceptional services.


Friday Apr 01, 2005

MiniDisk -vs- MP3

A recent Sun blog extolled the praise of the Sony MiniDisk. However, in my opinion, the MiniDisk is no longer a viable technology. I'll explain my thinking and offer reasons why you should consider an alternative - the MP3 player/recorder.

Note that I desire a portable device that can also record. I record some meetings, presentations, and voice dictation/reminders. But I also have the desire to record live concerts and gig band rehearsals in higher-quality stereo (I play the sax). I also like to jog listening to MP3s and/or the FM radio.

The $80.00 Sony ECM-MS907 is a perfect stereo mic for field/live recordings of meetings/presentations/concerts, etc. I've heard the $450.00 Rode NT4 is even better, but that's just too much for my taste.

Given that, here are my thoughts on portable MiniDisk -vs- MP3 devices:

  1. The MiniDisk will not upload any live recorded content to a PC. You have to capture the analog output of the headphone jack at real-time speeds (a 3 hour recording takes 3 hours)! A tiny MP3 player/recorder can record high-quality content (adjustable up to 256Kbps) and upload it digitally (no loss or added noise) at high-speeds using USB2.
  2. The MiniDisk has a motor and makes noise that a mic picks up (a low hum) when recording live (unless you can distance the mic from the unit)! An MP3 player is dead silent with no moving parts.
  3. The MiniDisk has moving parts: a motor, a rotating platter and moving read/write head. It is much more susceptible to wear and breakage and I/O errors than a solid state MP3 player. Think: jogging.
  4. The MiniDisk is larger and heavier which makes is less attractive for recording a meeting (sitting on the table) or concert (sitting in your pocket), or jogging (arm band).
  5. The MiniDisk has poorer battery life due to it having to drive a motor. Flash-based MP3 player/recorders last forever.
  6. The MiniDisk does not have a built-in FM radio. Many gyms offer TV broadcasts on FM frequencies. And MP3 devices have TiVO like features to auto record FM broadcasts.
  7. The MiniDisk is more expensive and MP3 player/recorders.
  8. The MiniDisk uses a non-standard audio compression format. An MP3 player/recorder will record in MP3 at up to 256Kbps - extremely high quality. While you might consider the audio quality pretty much equal, a standard format (MP3) is nice for broadcasting / sharing your live MP3 recordings.
  9. The MiniDisk just came out with 1GB media platters. However, many MP3 players support removable SD cards (at capacities up to 2GB and increasing). Plus, you can share your SD card between your MP3 player, Treo 650 phone, digital camera, etc.
  10. Lots of audio content is available on the Net in MP3 format, which makes it VERY easy to load and listen on the road (eg: in an airplane, on a treadmill, etc).
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